When he won the Oscar for Best Director for the shape of waterGuillermo del Toro already had his next step clear. wanted to adapt the alley of lost souls, a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946, and the movement was surprisingly groundbreaking. Until now, the Mexican had specialized in proposals of a fantastic nature that invoked the magic of our reality, exploring its nooks and crannies to proclaim with enthusiasm and a sense of wonder that, surrounding us, there were things greater than ourselves.
The argument of the alley of lost souls not only does it lack supernatural elements, but it also underlines the insignificance of the human being, contesting some of the great stories that accompanied him during the 20th century, such as the stage show and psychoanalysis. It is a pessimistic work with a aroma of tragedy, which del Toro was interested in because of how it could convey a first pure approach to film noir. His realization obeys, then, to the mythomania that has always driven his career.
With the nuance that Gresham's prose is not the only reference, since there is a previous adaptation to repair. A cinema classic whose influence assaults the images of the alley of lost souls and forces a dialogue that Del Toro fails to live up to.
At the beginning of the novel, the brash Stan Carlisle asks a potential employer how he managed to land the most successful attraction at his fair. This consists of a monstrosity—or geek, as it used to be named prior to alluding to a person fascinated by computers—who whimpers and crawls before the astonished eyes of the audience: someone who was once human, and now rips the heads off chickens to eat them. "You want to know where the monsters come from," he replies. "Well, you don't find them. You create them."
the fair of the alley of lost souls it feeds on divination sessions at the hands of Zeena, light games led by Molly, and also the monster's exhibition, crying out to the audience that he "wasn't like that before." With this approach, Gresham's extravagances fair was halfway to what other key works of popular culture would propose. Fourteen years earlier, in The stop of the monsters, Todd Browning erected the freak as an exaltation of difference. A challenge to cruel normality.
Decades later Ray Bradbury wrote the fair of darkness, where he wove a father-son relationship where the epic conflict between good and evil ended up converging, capable of transcending their individual experiences. But that didn't interest Gresham. For this writer, the fair channeled a study of our condemnation to perdition through selfishness, represented by that monstrosity and framing itself in times immediately after the Second World War. Just when the human being had shown his ugliest face.
Stan's ambition led him to manipulate audiences, partners and lovers. first with a Show of telepathy, then moving on to spiritualism, and his deceptions were not without their moralizing punishment in the denouement. But the story was still too dark for Hollywood to leave untouched. When Edmund Goulding made it into a movie a year later, 20th Century Fox forced him to change the ending so that the alley of lost souls It ended on a note of optimism. And yet, the 1946 film remains an oddity in the studio system at the time, for its cruelty and cynicism.
There are multiple successes that establish Goulding's film —starring Tyrone Power— as a canonical masterpiece, but perhaps what convinced Del Toro to risk replicating it is its evocative power. the alley of lost souls cultivated the suffocating atmosphere that had been initialed both by German expressionism and by the translation made of it by the not to go Hollywood, but his fatalism did not only go back to previous tragedies such as the Great Depression or the aforementioned Second World War.
the alley of lost souls he was capable of projecting himself, of anticipating the neuroses that society would incur in the second half of the century and the beginning of the next. Gresham and Goulding were able to read the culture of entertainment as a repository of the anxieties of the individual, where he sought both abstraction and salvation. That viewer who Stan was able to read the mind just because the viewer wanted it that way; thanks to the fact that he longed to be seen, known, understood. That's why I could be the victim of such a simple scam.
In a very scathing note, Gresham had identified psychoanalysis —then living in an age of splendor that would only mutate from now on— as another side of the problem. Those people on the couch were looking for the same thing as the audience at the fair, so that Stan was just as shellfish as the psychologist he ended up associating with, Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker). We entered the mind or the ShowWhat we craved was recognition, personal affirmation spurred on by our weaknesses and intractable conflicts.
Goulding was so clever, too, that Stan's portrayals cinematically preserved some of the power of seduction that he inspired in his audience. Even knowing that it was a scam, the expressive power of scenes such as the first meeting with the psychologist or the appearance of a certain "ghost" captivated us as viewers. And the diagnosis, thus, gained significance. The cinema was also a scam. Possibly the most perfect evolution of Stan's illusion shows.
the alley of lost souls, novel and film, warned about the different fictions in which the human being could take refuge (and would take refuge) while setting an unappealable shipwreck for all of them, a moment where they would be deactivated and only the abyss would return our gaze. Its discursive power was such that the inevitable question about the new adaptation of Guillermo del Toro also involved some concern: what could it update? What was the point of bringing to the present a story that had never left him?
The answer, luckily, is that Del Toro has not wanted to update or reread anything. Your version of the alley of lost souls part of the certainty that his theses are still relevant, regardless of the historical situation from which we approach them, and that the most sensible thing is to respect the original substratum. Keeping its setting in the 40s, it benefits from timelessness, which after more than half a century turns it into something like an eternal fable. A story from which many other stories have come.
The move is reminiscent of a movie with which it shares the billboard (and, in the US, huge bump box office): the West Side Story from Spielberg. Both works proudly display the status of relics that try to mimic old ways of commercial cinema, risking everything that the ideas that their referents defended are still current in their universality. But while West Side Story is an excellent case of neoclassicism, the alley of lost souls it is about how badly channeled admiration can reduce the forcefulness of the material.
It is no secret that del Toro has a universe of its own. A versatile one, moreover, capable of harmonizing consolidated references. He was able to carry the sequel to Blade to his land, that hell boy would breathe independently of the comics, and that Pacific Rim made us rethink everything we knew about giant robots. With Gresham's story he has done the same, accentuating the violence, reveling in the fair's baroque construction, and generally wrapping the story in enormous luxury.
Exquisite photography by Dan Laustsen, accompanied by the melodies of Nathan Johnson and the performances of the cast - a fierce Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett as femme fatale quintessential—, are combined in a plastic experience of the first order. Everything in it denotes Del Toro's will to look into film noir from passion, but also starting from an ultimately self-satisfied excess. the alley of lost souls It lasts an hour longer than the 47 version. And it shows.
It doesn't last longer because it goes deeper into the themes or incorporates noteworthy elements: its absurd 150-minute footage is developed at the cost of over-explaining everything and lengthening situations based solely on how comfortable Del Toro feels in this environment. The more iterative the alley of lost souls, in tune, their ideas lose more power, and with greater virulence they throw the film into the consideration of a pompous whim that is only capable of referring us to times when conciseness, happily, was the order of the day.
Because of this excess and his militant solemnity —which makes us fear a Del Toro tamed after academic success with the shape of water—, the alley of lost souls it remains miles away from the magnetism of the film to which it pays homage. It is therefore incapable of responding to its self-conscious show with another show to match, and involuntarily affects how part of the great fictions of the 20th century today point to having become obsolete. Gresham would be satisfied, after all.